Technophobe: On the iPhone 5, iPad mini and competition

Megan Youngren/Sun Star Columnist
September 11, 2012

The iPhone 5 will be announced on Wednesday, Sept. 12. It is likely to be released sometime in the following two weeks. Rumors say that the long awaited iPad Mini will not be shown until October. The iPhone 5 will be bigger lengthwise than its predecessor, and the iPad Mini will be smaller all around as its name suggests. In a market where phones with nearly five inch or larger screens are becoming the rule, a 3.5″ inch screen will no longer be enough to compete. The iPad Mini isn’t just for the purposes of being easier to hold and transport. It will counteract Google’s Nexus 7 tablet and Amazon’s new range of Kindle Fire tablets.

Each company has different motivations for setting pricing. Amazon, like Apple, wants their device to showcase its media and app offerings. Amazon doesn’t try to profit from each device sold like Apple does. Production of an iPad might cost almost $200 less than it costs to buy in a store. Amazon uses ads to cover that part of the device price, which is dedicated to research and development costs and profit. Amazon’s Kindles only show ads as you turn the device on, or on their home screens,this sacrifice lets them offer a $160 tablet.

Google uses ads to subsidize its tablet too. Since Google controls Android, they can feature their advertisement platform in it. Overall sales of Android tablets have been low compared to the iPad. Google has the cash to sell a high-quality $200 tablet, ignoring profit and research/development spending. Amazon wants people to consume media from its online store. Google’s media store is essentially a bonus service, .

Google’s advertisements reside in apps and around the web. Their entire business is built on ads, while Amazon just uses ads as a tool.  The fact that Apple has finally decided to enter a device into the $250 range might be a response to these devices, or it could be that they’ve finally been able to get the cost of materials into their preferred range. A $250 iPad Mini might only cost $180 to make, and the device can be premium feeling, and relatively inexpensive without an ulterior motive or ads. As of late, Apple has really fixated on giving their devices a luxury feel while still considering the price.

The iPhone 4 was a significant departure in design from the plastic-backed 3G and 3GS.  At its release, the iPhone 4 was comparatively thin and light and felt like a premium device. Apple’s rule of reusing casing for another year and only changing the internals has allowed for Android manufacturers to catch up in size and weight and also device quality and feel. Apple will probably jump ahead again in these metrics with their iPhone 5.  Even if it is a slim profit now, it will eventually cost less to make.

In general, Android manufacturers have been growing the screens to massive proportions to allow for thinner phones. People like these giant devices despite the difficulty of fitting them into pockets. Acknowledging the market preference for big phones, Apple has decided to increase the size of the screen while keeping the same width, meaning the phone is taller.  The iPhone’s size was sacred, lasting through 5 revisions, so this is a surprising compromise.

Changing the screen dimensions means that for the first time the iPhone will be widescreen like most other modern smartphones, making it better for watching videos. The 4″ screen size matches the first Samsung Galaxy S from 2010, and the few recent non-iPhone devices that use smaller screens. By no means is the new or old iPhone’s size small – if one were to think back to before 2007, many of us were using screens that were at best two inches in size. It is interesting timing for the iPhone to become more like Android phones after the recent similarity lawsuit. It’s Apple sticking out its tongue.

This fall has been packed with press conferences and announcements of competing phones and tablets, and for once it looks like Apple is following the lead of others. It’s a turning point for Apple to appreciate market preferences and change to them.

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